An academic painter who had achieved great success in the Paris Salon with mythological, historical, and religious subjects, Bouguereau later turned to genre scenes such as this image of a young woman caring for her younger brother. Although the figures are defined as siblings in the title, Bouguereau evokes the Madonna and Child with a tender pose—much like that seen in the altarpieces on the opposite wall—and the Catholic rosary beads in the child’s hand. Moreover, scholars have linked Bouguereau’s composition and the dark, dreamy look of the girl to the Sistine Madonna by Raphael. Bouguereau’s works appealed to a middle-class clientele—both French and American—that cherished Christian and domestic values. This “reduction” is one of at least two known versions that Bouguereau painted after a larger subject displayed in the Salon of 1867.
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William Bouguereau (French, 1825-1905). The Elder Sister, reduction (La soeur aînée, réduction), ca. 1864. Oil on panel, 21 7/8 x 17 15/16 in. (55.6 x 45.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Bequest of William H. Herriman, 21.99
Bequest of William H. Herriman
21 7/8 x 17 15/16 in. (55.6 x 45.6 cm); Frame: 29 3/4 x 25 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (75.6 x 64.8 x 11.4 cm)